Prisha Hill

Zero Waste living in a disposable world

Tag: bulk-free shopping

Advent Adventures

Woo Christmas will soon be here, along with all the traditions that come with it. For us the festive season begins on 1st December with the first opening of the advent calendar. We watch all our favourite Christmas movies while snuggled under a blanket and drinking hot chocolate. We alternate seeing our families on Christmas Day or Boxing Day – this year we’re with Paul’s family on Christmas Day and mine on Boxing Day, but regardless of where we are we always open up 1 present on Christmas Eve right before we go to bed. Christmas morning we tear into our stocking gifts and then go down for breakfast. When we’re with my family on Christmas Day I get to spend the morning cooking – which I love! After we eat we then get to open up our main presents… after that the traditions vary depending on which family we’re with.

So, tradition number 1 – the advent calendar… there are so many to choose from! There are super traditional ones that you open up to reveal an image; there are the good old chocolate ones that I always had as a child; these days you can even alcohol ones and we’ll almost anything you can imagine. This year I was immensely tempted to buy myself a Bomb Cosmetics bath bomb advent calendar, but all of these advent calendars are immensely wasteful. There’s loads of cardboard and often a plastic tray. Eventually my zero waste principles stopped me from buying the bath bomb advent calendar.

Does that mean our advent calendar tradition is to come to an end? Not at all! In fact there are a few ways of doing a zero waste advent.

Reusable Advent Calendar

As well as the cardboard and plastic advent calendars, many shops are now also starting to stock empty wooden advent calendars. You can fill them with so many different things but I’m planning on filling ours with sweets from a local old fashioned style sweet shop – the kind where you can go up to the counter and request a quarter of… in fact I normally go into the sweet shop (Sweet Alley in Biggleswade) with my own jars to be filled with candy goodness.

Earn a treat

How about heading out on a daily litter pick and reward each person with a treat for each item of rubbish they collect that day? This one has the benefit of cleaning up the streets and gives kids a chance to earn more than just 1 piece of chocolate a day.

If the little ones could do with a bit more of an academic boost the lovely people at education.com have provided a themed maths worksheet – why not give your kids a maths problem to solve each day before they get to have their advent treats? Simply grab some treats, download the worksheet and answer sheet and away you go. As this blog is all about zero waste and loving the environment, I have an ocean themed worksheet for you to download (worksheet: subtraction_subtraction_under_the_sea3 and the answer sheet: subtraction_subtraction_under_the_sea3_answers), however there are other themes and worksheets available through their website.

Christmas Bingo

When I was a kid my Mum and I would drive around looking for all the tacky and way over the top Christmas lights people had adorned their houses with. So, I thought it might be fun to turn if into a full on Advent event. The idea is you have a list of 25 Christmas themed items that you have to cross off as and when you spot them. However, spotting something, let’s say tinsel, for sale in a shop or in your own home doesn’t count, whereas spotting tinsel in someone else’s home would be fine. You can do this by yourself or even compete against friends and family to see who can cross off all the items first. Here are the ones we’ll be looking for this year:

  • Santa
  • Snowman
  • Reindeer
  • Mistletoe
  • Festive lights – ideally the OTT seizure inducing ones
  • Nativity scene
  • Star
  • Candy cane
  • Holly
  • Bells
  • Wreath
  • Gingerbread house/person
  • Elf
  • Stocking
  • Christmas tree (real or plastic)
  • Tinsel
  • Sleigh
  • Carol singers
  • Candle
  • Presents
  • Poinsettia
  • Mince Pies
  • Robin
  • Angel
  • Mittens

It’s only November but I can actually cross off the mince pies already!

What are your advent plans? Have you come up with another way of making the festivities zero waste? Let me know what you’re up to.

I recently attended a conference on the environmental impact of microplastics so be sure to come back next month to hear how it went and to get a break-down of the report.

Harvest Festival

I love Autumn! I love the colours. I love feeling the last breath of summer’s warmth being gently ushered along by gusts of wind hinting at winter’s icy chill.

I also love celebrating the harvest. Don’t get me wrong here, I am not one for pottering in the garden and I struggle to keep plants alive for a full year, but I do enjoy celebrating at harvest time.

As a child we would be asked to take a tin of soup or something into school for the harvest festival. All the tins were then collected together, nicely displayed during an assembly, and then distributed to people in the community who were most in need – the food banks of the 90’s! As a kid I didn’t know or care about the harvest festival. I didn’t even know it was anything to do with farming, to me it was just an annual event where I had to raid the cupboard for a tin of beans. Eventually I questioned what people did before tins were invented and that’s when I discovered the harvest festival was all about celebrating all that nature has given us.

Once upon a time men would gather in the crops and the women would preserve those crops in order to sustain the family through the forthcoming Winter. The Harvest Festival celebrates this ritual – all the hard work of toiling in both the fields and the kitchen comes to a close with everyone enjoying a lovely ploughmans meal, a sheaf loaf and a drink or 2 to rejoice and give thanks for successful harvest.

In that same tradition, this time last year I was gathering up the last fruits of the year and preserving them ready for Winter. I had such an overwhelming sense of being at one with nature – making the most of Summer’s abundance to sustain us through the next season.

This year was a very different story though. The unusual heat that we experienced here in Britain this spring/summer meant that all the fruit I normally gather up had fully ripened by early July which meant no August jam making for me. In fact I didn’t get to preserve anything this year for Winter. Luckily, in this day and age we don’t need to spend Autumn preparing for Winter. Eating seasonally can be reduced to nothing more than another hipster trend that allows gourmet restaurants to charge way over the odds, and the closest most people get to pulling a root vegetable from the ground is washing the dirt off a carrot they bought at the supermarket. And that’s the point – supermarkets allow us to buy the fruits of someone else’s labour. We never have to worry about not having enough food for winter because we can just go out and buy the same ingredients week in and week out any time of the year. It doesn’t matter what season it is, food is grown all over the world and shipped over so we can enjoy things like asparagus in January and strawberries in February if we want to.

I wasn’t able to gather up and preserve anything this year and I’m sorry to say but a lot of farmers took a much bigger hit than that this year as well. Many crops failed entirely and almost all farmers suffered heavy losses. This year more than ever we’re going to be thankful that the supermarkets are able to import food from overseas.

Therein is the dilemma. Supermarkets squeeze producers as much as possible to bring us cheap food year-round, shipping food all over the world thus contributing massively to climate change. However, as a result of climate change we’re having to rely on those same supermarkets (rather than local farm shops for example) to see us through winter at an affordable price.

I’m not trying to suggest supermarkets are the sole cause of climate change here. The modern lifestyle is largely to blame and our reliance on cheap produce from overseas rather than growing our own is just one contributing factor. Did you know that the old council houses (built before the 1980’s) used to be quite small but have relatively large gardens becsuse they expected the tenents to be self-sufficient?! The gardens were divided into 3 sections where crops could be grown, livestock (such as a pig) could be kept and I forget what the 3rd section was intended for now but it doesn’t really matter because of course almost no one did plant any fruit and veg in their gardens (or keep any livestock), instead they mostly became large areas for the kids to play in which is why later builds tended to have MUCH smaller gardens, if at all.

I’m not expecting anyone to suddenly rush out with a spade to start planting some potatoes here, instead I would urge everyone to try and shop local where possible. By all means get digging if that’s your thing though. Is eating seasonally really so bad if it means the food we’re about to tuck into has a lower carbon footprint? Buying direct from a local farm shop or green grocers means you’re unlikely to encounter fruit and veg encased in plastic packaging and you’ll be able to pick from the whole crop, not just the ones that conform to a certain shape or size. One of the bug supermarkets here is currently running an advert boasting about buying the whole crop by creating the “wonky” range – it’s good that they’re not just leaving the ones that don’t make the grade to go to waste, but they’ve wrapped them all in plastic and labelled it as “wonky”. How about buying the whole crop the farmer and selling the whole lot loose?! Let’s stop the vegetation-based apartheid, ditch the plastic, and just let consumers pick their own quantity!

Supermarkets have also recently been advertising their willingness to let you bring your own container into the store… like I said we should be doing in a previous post. Don’t wait for a shop to give you permission to use your own container instead of them giving you a disposable one – just take one with you and ask if they’re okay with it. I’ve been taking my own containers everywhere for a couple of years now and have never encountered anyone unwilling to fill mine instead of their own.

The one harvest ritual I did manage to fulfil this year was the sheaf loaf. I fully intended to take a photo but, in this house we love digging in to bread fresh from the oven and so, on this occasion we had already devoured half the loaf before I thought about taking a pic. I normally bake bread every few days so you think we’d be over the fresh from the oven novelty by now, but no!

One day my little one is going to have a great time getting his hands dirty kneading and shaping the dough with me, and I just can’t wait to be able to share the full harvest tradition with him – the preserving fresh fruit and vegetables ready for winter one, not the taking a tin of soup to school one.

8 tips for zero waste shopping

Once you make the commitment to reducing the amount of rubbish you produce, you suddenly see packaging EVERYWHERE, as if for the fist time. We’re so used to seeing all this packaging that we almost distrust anything that doesn’t come encased in plastic. I have to admit though, it was only quite recently that I realised the absurdity of buying a bunch of bananas that come in a polythene bag – bananas come naturally bunched together and within their own natural packaging (unless of course you’re one of those people who eats the skin – weirdo!). I would understand if some bananas became seperated from the bunch so the supermarkets wanted to bag up a bunch of singles – personally I’d still prefer to buy a load of stray ones and just skip the bag though, but I can see the appeal there for some people.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand… how do you go shopping and avoid excess packaging? The short answer is: plan ahead! With a little bit of planning before you hit the shops, you’ll be able to reduce your environmental impact and save some pennies while you’re at it. Before we get into it, I just want to say that this is not an exhaustive list and if I’ve missed anything please feel free to get in touch. So here it is, 8 ways to shop zero waste (in no particular order):

  1. Take your own bags! – Yeah, I know, I forget too sometimes… which is why I started to have a couple in the car at all times, one in my handbag and the rest hanging by the front door. Taking your own reusable bags will of course save you 5p per bag.
  2. Only buy what you need – So this is something that goes directly against all supermarket marketing plans because they want you to spend as much money as possible, which is why you need to ignore all those tantalising “deals” and instead make a shopping list (and stick to it). Before drawing up your shopping list, you may find it easier to create a weekly meal plan to then know exactly what ingredients you’ll need to buy. Don’t get me wrong here, there are deals to be had at the supermarket but just remember those deals are there purely to encourage you to spend more money per shop.                                                                                                                                        41Raw25uPIL._SX300_
  3. Buy loose – You DO NOT NEED A PLASTIC BAG for your veg! You don’t need the pre-packed plastic bag supermarkets like to sell vegetables in (for more than the cost of buying the same items loose) and you also do not need to pull a plastic bag off the roll in order to put a few carrots or whatever into your basket – is it really so bad to have a carrot roll around your basket as you make your way to the checkout? If the answer is ‘yes’ then please invest in some reusable cloth produce bags (or even make your own).
  4. Take your own packaging – I have a set of nesting stainless steel containers with plastic lids which I take everywhere with me. I buy all my meat from Franklins at Throncote – I just hand over each container and say what I would like them to put in it, they then weigh, fill, and stick a barcode on the lid, which I then take to the till and pay – job done! 20171104_122149[1] This way I’m buying local, the meat is of amazing quality, I can specify exactly how much I need and I don’t have to take home any single-use plastic packaging! I also take the containers to my Mum’s house to take home yummy left-overs; in fact I’ve also used the containers to take home left-overs from restaurants… when purchasing the containers I made sure to get ones that advertised themselves at leak-proof, which is just as well as I have needed to use them to transport soup before now. I was a little unsure about whipping out my own containers at first, because my husband assured me everyone would think it was weird, but I decided to give it a go anyway and sure enough I discovered absolutely nobody gave a f**k! Hence I started taking them everywhere.
  5. Shop around – This isn’t an option for everyone, but if you can, try to get your veggies from a greengrocer, farm shop or market stall – it’ll be nice and fresh, inexpensive, packaging free and will help local businesses. Here in Biggleswade we’re very lucky to have quite a few farm shops and market traders in the vicinity. This doesn’t just apply to veggies – check out your local butcher, maybe buy your bread from an actual bakery, is there a working mill nearby where you can buy flour? Better yet, can you take and fill your own container with flour? Its not just the supermarkets that have the offers, and there can be huge savings available if you’re willing to spend a little time shopping around… you don’t even have to leave the house. If there’s an item I need to buy from a chain store then I’ll look around online first, and that includes hitting mysupermarket.co.uk which compares all the major UK supermarkets and shows you where to get the best value. If you want, you can even compare items by calorie or sugar content rather than price.
  6. Buy in bulk – For those of you already familiar with the zero waste lifestyle, bulk to you probably means taking your own jars and containers to a shop, getting the tare weight and then filling up those containers with items from big bins full of household essentials. To everyone else, buying in bulk means buying a massive quantity of (usually) items that won’t spoil, like toilet paper for example. If you have a packaging-free bulk shop available in your vicinity then please do shop there as much as possible. For the rest of us, this is simply impossible – I’m not trekking down to London every time I want to fill up a mason jar with shampoo! Instead, I have had to go with the large quantity option (I did try another option first, more on that in the next post)… I have purchased 5 litre bottles of both shampoo and conditioner which I decant into soap dispenser bottles and refill as and when I need them. These 2x 5 litre bottles should last me around 6-8 months assuming my calculations are correct. Now, whilst buying a large quantity of something can equate to large monetary savings, this is simply not something everyone can afford to do, or at least not on their own – if you can, I strongly encourage you to split the cost with someone. It is a significant upfront investment but it will pay off in the long-run. In all honesty, I did resent paying £100 in one go for 2 bottles of haircare products, but I just have to keep reminding myself that in the same time period I would otherwise be spending £250 on smaller ‘normal’ sized bottles, which would overall also require the use of a greater amount of plastic than the 2 big bottles I have. I’m quite tempted to send the big bottles back once they’re empty to see if they can be refilled rather than recycled – I’ll let you know how I get on.
  7. Go old-school – and sign up to have a glass bottle of milk delivered to your door. Sadly, long gone are the days of buying a bottle of milk from the shop and having a 2p refund for returning the empty bottle. Instead, the next best thing is having a milk delivery. It costs me 5p  more to have a glass bottle rather than plastic from the supermarket, but unlike plastic, glass can be reused and (if it does break) is infinitely recycleable; and buying from the milkman instead of the supermarket is again helping support a local business. Oh and there’s no refund for leaving the empties on your doorstep to be collected – just the knowledge that each glass bottle represents one less plastic bottle being tossed out. Overall, more expensive, but still less than I’m saving on shampoo and conditioner.
  8. Make your own – From soap to toothpaste and everything in between, you’d be amazed at just how easy it can be to make your own household essentials, for almost no money. And let’s face it, who can resist the awesome smell of bread being taken out of the oven?! Even if you have a gluten-free diet, that smell will still get the mouth watering! I plan to share with you some of my favourite make-yourself zero waste essentials in due course, but if you’re keen to dive in before then there are plenty of recipes/instructions all over the internet – best of luck to you (especially if you’re trying out homemade toothpaste – my first attempt was truly awful!), please let me know what you tried and how it went.

One final thing I just want to say, with regards to shopping around – I understand mobility may be an issue for some people and would therefore encourage you to get in touch with others nearby who will be able to assist – for example, here in Biggleswade we have a Good Neighbours scheme whereby people volunteer their time to help others in the community, be it doing some shopping, ironing, giving someone a lift, DIY jobs around the house, or even just a bit of company etc. If you’re struggling to make it out to market or to a farm shop (or anywhere for that matter) then please do get in touch with the scheme organisers and see if someone is able to give you a hand. Conversely, if you’re out and about with your stash of containers and reusable shopping bags, maybe sign up for the scheme as a volunteer and help your neighbours to live more sustainably.

Next week I’ll be covering ways to go zero waste in the bathroom, including what works for us, what didn’t work for us, and eco-friendly alternative options – could you switch to reusable toilet paper?

© 2019 Prisha Hill

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